Saturday, September 22nd
Petersburg office for the last time as a Freedom Scientific employee. My repetitive strain injuries RSI caused me constant pain and the Vicodin prescribed by my physician had too many cognitive side effects to permit me from having a clear enough mind to perform my tasks while the steroidal injections I received for the same injuries had intense emotional side effects that felt like I was on cocaine or methamphetimine.
While my final few months at Freedom Scientific were a personal disaster for me and not too good for FS or its customers, I am very proud of the many things we accomplished during my six year tenure.
During that time, Eric Damery, Glen Gordon and I invented a ton of new screen reader features now seen in all such utilities on Windows. What Did We Accomplish? In those release we added new and interesting features with each revision and pushed the user interface of screen readers forward every six months or so.
In that period at Freedom Scientific we: Invented the virtual buffer concept for delivering web information to JAWS users. Provided the first ever ways of reading charts and graphs in a major screen reader.
Advanced usability of office suites in a way never previously seen in a screen reader. Added features to recognize similar documents and spreadsheets and automatically apply a set of adjustments for reading the data. Once everything was up and running, I started exploring this terrific free screen reader.
I continued to read the NVDA documentation to see what new and noteworthy concepts have been invented in the nine years since I walked out of Freedom Scientific on that November morning.
I looked further and found nothing new. I read up on JAWS, once the hands down leader in innovation and found nothing new there in many years either. So, in a decade, the only new ideas in screen readers have come not from a small, highly focused screen reader company but, rather, from a mainstream super power.
Was I That Important? Some of these ideas started as hallway conversations with other employees, phone conversations with beta testers, questions from our technical support staff and lots of other sources. I was usually the person who wrote up the ideas into a formal specification FS product managers seem to have some kind of innate aversion to writing anything down and, sometimes, I originated the notion but, by the time it became a task to add it to JAWS, the concept would have been thoroughly reviewed multiple times by Eric, Glen, Joe and, often, Ted Henter.
Leaders Who Are Blind As far as I can tell, other than Mike Calvo, CEO of Serotekmakers of the System Access screen reader, I was the last blind person with direct authority over a commercial screen reader and, as System Access has never had a large user base, the last blind person with direct authority over a widely used commercial screen reader.
Reexamining how we invented things at Freedom Scientific, I recall that, often, the best ideas came out of frustration. Joe Stephen wanted to read notes in braille different from the contents of PowerPoint slides so we added the ability to have one stream of information go to the speech synthesizer while another went to the braille display.
I got sick of making all of the JAWS settings just to read the FS financials on a weekly basis so we invented a way that JAWS could recognize different but similar spreadsheets and automatically apply the settings.
We invented Quick Keys while Glen and I talked on the phone about single letter navigation in some emacs scripts. Most of our best ideas grew out of desires by actual users in our employ.
NVDA is an excellent free, no cost screen reader for Windows. As far as I know, all of its code is written by blind people who use the software as their primary means of interacting with Windows computers. NVDA, as far as I can tell, is written almost entirely by two guys.
These guys are really smart and creative fellows and were the first to bring gesture navigation to Windows for screen reader users, a concept, while not novel, that is both powerful and useful.
Nonetheless, it is a large and complicated bit of software that requires all of the maintenance of JAWS without anything approaching the FS ability to invest in a project. A large mainstream company like Apple or Microsoft can make their own screen reader motivated by federal and state regulations requiring accessibility as a condition of sale.
A free software screen reader like NVDA or Orca can be funded by corporate dollars contributed to the effort, by contributions from users and the general public and by selling services to support development.
Lastly, a commercial technology company like Freedom Scientific or GW Micro can fund their research and development costs from sales of their products.Automatic works cited and bibliography formatting for MLA, APA and Chicago/Turabian citation styles. Now supports 7th edition of MLA.
(The iPad mini, not so much, at least not yet.) I certainly can type on an iPad much faster than I can write with a pen on paper. But it’s nowhere close to my speed on a MacBook keyboard. Whether you’ve 10 readers or 10,, thinking about them makes writing a post daunting.. So, forget about your readers.
Instead, create an imaginary friend.
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